March 2014 Exchange Visitor of the Month: Carla Parzianello

colorado_pictureCarla Parzianello is a J-1 trainee in Human Resources Management from Brazil. During her time at YMCA of the Rockies in Colorado, Carla has reached out to local Americans to share her culture. She has organized events for adults and spoken to kids in local schools. Check out her tips on how you can do the same!

This summer, Carla and a volunteer at her YMCA host site organized regular cultural events at the Snow Mountain Ranch. Exchange visitors gave 40 minute presentations on their home countries, with emphasis on tourist spots, food and cultural events. The events drew an audience of volunteers, retired people, host families, American staff and other guests. They also hosted a lively international fair with food and dancing! Read the interview to learn how to host fun cultural exchange events.

What is your impression of US culture?

Everybody is really friendly here. Brazilians can be even friendlier. It’s important for me to be more assertive in Anglo-­Saxon culture. South Americans tend to be less assertive. In my training, I’ve learned that there is a focus on paperwork compliance. We have that in Brazil as well, especially with larger companies.

People visit here in Colorado from all over the country, so I’ve learned about some of the cultural differences in different regions of the US. People from the South are considered more laid back, people from the East Coast are more work-­‐driven. You see those kinds of differences in Brazil as well.

Another thing that I noticed is that Americans move a lot. There’s a pattern of moving from the West Coast or East Coast to Colorado and from the Midwestern states to the West Coast. Here there’s not much access to public transportation. At YMCA, people can sign up for trips to go to the grocery store, Aspen, Colorado Springs or Denver, which is two hours away. In Brazil and Ireland, where I lived for one year, access to public transportation is much easier.

Besides organizing events at your host site, you also presented at an elementary school. How did that go?

It was a jam-­‐packed day with all the J-­‐1 trainees from my host site. I took my laptop and some activities. The school organized passports with questions that they would have to answer about each country represented. We had cartoon characters, pictures and posters. The best method is having the kids do something. I had a memory game. The Chinese trainees had a special paper for practicing calligraphy. You write on it with water and it vanishes from the paper. The kids enjoyed that a lot. Now another school contacted us about hosting a similar event.

What was the most common question the kids asked you?

The food! If they are in a restaurant, what should they order? Kids were very interested in Brazilian fruits. I searched Google images and showed them our fruits and animals. They were aware of how big Brazil was. They normally think that the Amazon crosses the whole country, but it doesn’t; it’s just in the north part of Brazil. I’m from the South. They all asked if I had seen the Amazon River. They also asked if we celebrated Christmas there. They always want to double check which language we speak, because a lot of people think we speak Spanish, but the official language is Portuguese.

I was surprised by how much the kids knew. I think they were surprised too. At the beginning, when I asked “What do you know about Brazil?” they looked at each other and were quiet. But during the presentation, they would come up with a lot of information, so they really knew a lot.

Do you have any advice for J-1 exchange visitors who would like to have a great cultural exchange experience?

Having a presentation where you can have interactions with the audience is pretty interesting. If there is a neighborhood or community event, you can have a stand there and talk about your country. Prepare your favorite food from back home and share it. It’s about sharing our cultures. Sit down with people and ask as much as you can. Ask your co-workers and people you get to know. Socialize as much as you can. Although it’s awkward at first, socializing as much as you can is important, because you’ll learn about history and culture. We have so many opportunities here to sit down and ask questions.